Public defence: Compliance with Territorial Awards: Territorial Concessions, Domestic Constraints, and International Legal Rulings

David Larsson Gebre-Medhin defends his thesis "Compliance with Territorial Awards: Territorial Concessions, Domestic Constraints, and International Legal Rulings". Faculty opponent is Stephen Gent, Associate Professor, Dept. of Political Science, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

A live recording of the defence will be available on Zoom:


Under what conditions do states engaged in interstate territorial disputes comply with unfavorable international legal awards? Interstate territorial disputes have proven to be a major threat to international peace and security. Of the available options for the peaceful resolution of territorial claims, legal dispute resolution has proven to be very effective, as states overwhelmingly comply with international awards. However, despite the relevance of legal dispute resolution, we have limited knowledge about it, especially concerning how and when states choose to comply with unfavorable legal rulings. This dissertation examines the extent to which one of the most influential approaches to legal dispute resolution – domestic-constraints theory – is able to explain the compliance behavior of states which have “lost in court.” Extant research has suggested that international legal processes facilitate the reduction of domestic constraints on territorial concessions, enabling dispute resolution through compliance with international rulings. Yet no study so far has systematically traced whether legal processes indeed influence the domestic politics of territorial concession-making, or the extent to which compliance behavior is linked to domestic constraints. Employing a qualitative case-study design, this dissertation traces three implementation processes of awards that required salient territorial concessions. The cases examined are Israel, 1984–1989 (concerning the Taba dispute with Egypt); Nigeria, 1994–2008 (concerning the Bakassi dispute with Cameroon); and Ethiopia, 1998–2007 (concerning the Badme dispute with Eritrea). This study finds support for domestic-constraints theory as an explanation for compliance behavior. The findings show that domestic constraints pose a sufficient obstacle to compliance with territorial concessions, but that legal processes can facilitate attempts by governments to overcome such domestic obstacles, thereby enabling the implementation of legally ruled territorial losses. This study contributes to the research on territorial dispute resolution in particular by confirming and developing our understanding of how legal dispute resolution helps to solve high-salience territorial claims, specifically as a remedy for domestic obstacles to settlement. On a more general level, the results also speak to the ability of international law to influence state behavior in foreign relations.